Friday, April 6, 2007

Calorie Restriction

I am thinking about going on a calorie restricted diet. A lot of research says that calorie restriction may lead to a healthier, longer life. I certainly want to be healthier (although I think I am pretty healthy as it is) and I don’t want to die anytime soon.

There was a great article the other day which said, in effect, that it is never too late to start restricting calories. This was particularly interesting to me because I am no longer as young as I used to be. Apparently a person can still receive many of the supposed benefits of calorie restriction later in life. Some of those benefits include potentially lower risk of cancer and heart disease.

This article says that calorie restriction is “the most potent, broadly acting cancer-prevention regimen in experimental carcinogenesis models.” That sounds like a pretty strong statement to me, and makes me sit up and take notice. If I were afraid of getting cancer, I would take a serious look at calorie restriction as a strong preventive measure.

Apparently, as with the first article above, calorie restriction is supposed to protect against aging.

And it is supposed to have a particularly protective effect on aging of the heart.

Here is more information on calorie restriction from Wikipedia, including some aguments against it.

Here is a review of the literature on calorie restriction. It is a few years old, but it covers some important topics. And here is a website that serves as sort of a clearinghouse for articles on calorie restriction.

There is one potential downside to all this – at least most people would call it a downside – besides the objections mentioned in Wikipedia. The man in this article said something to the effect that by following a calorie restricted diet he lost all of his sex drive. He even said that his testosterone level was about the same as that of a woman’s. Now in all fairness, the article in question does say that the man followed an “extreme” calorie restricted diet. I am not really talking about anything too extreme – just enough to have a noticeable effect on my health. And I don’t know if everyone responds to this type of diet in the same way as this man did. (BTW, the man who was interviewed in this article claims that calorie restriction had some very positive psychological benefits for him.)

(Just for the record, let me mention the Hallelujah Diet. It is a raw food diet. And I realize it has some religious components that some people might find distasteful. But it is a viable, relatively easy to follow, low-calorie vegan diet, and their website has some pretty good soup recipes. Also on their website are testimonials from people who claim to have recovered rather dramatically from serious disease while following the diet, or some version of it. Usually I take all that with a grain of salt, but if I were faced with a truly serious disease myself, I would probably not hesitate to try this diet, or some version of it. What would I have to lose? The idea for me, however, is to take steps to make myself healthier before I am faced with a truly serious disease, not after.)

Going on a calorie restricted diet would be a major step for me. It would be comparable to when I gave up smoking, or when I became a vegetarian. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of making those changes. It may take me a long time to get used to the idea of really restricting my calories, and eating a truly nutritious diet. I think it would entail a lot more grocery shopping, and a lot more cooking, or food preparation in general, not to mention a lot more research and planning about what to eat and how to eat it.

I want to do everything I can to make myself healthier. Calorie restriction might accomplish that goal, but I’m just not quite ready yet to make that change. Besides, in some ways I am restricting my calories now, in an informal way, by eating less and exercising more. That is really about all I can handle for now. When I get ready to go to the grocery store, buy a lot of fresh vegetables, bring them home, and cook them (or eat them raw) then I suppose I will. In the meantime I’m doing what I can do, especially within my comfort zone, and that’s not too bad.

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Lynne Eldridge M.D. said...

I believe the articles talking about calorie restriction are designed for those that are overweight. From your picture, you do not appear to fit that category! I love you comments and will be back to visit your site!

We do know that obesity is the cause of 20 percent of cancer deaths in women and 14 percent in men. Currently, 78 percent of men aged 40 to 59 in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Restricting calories is interesting in light of the increase in our daily intake over the past 30 years. The average American women is consuming 335 calories more per day than she did 30 years ago. Considering that 100 extra calories per day translates into roughly 10 pounds per year, this is alarming.

With obesity increasing and tobacco use declining, obesity may soon overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of cancer. Something that makes me open my eyes as well! Thanks! I will be back!

Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time, Practical Advice for Preventing Cancer"

Ed Bremson said...

Lynne, Thanks for your comment, although I am not sure I understand it completely. Usually when people talk about calorie restriction, they are not talking about obesity, or even being overweight, but are referring to attempts by some in the scientific community to figure out how to make people live longer and halt some of the ravages of aging by using calorie restriction. I realize that having obese people lose weight would help them live longer and avoid some of the ravages of aging, but when scientists do experiments with calorie restriction, I don’t think they are doing them on overweight insects, animals, or people. They are basically just trying to find out what would happen if a person restricted his or her calories. Would the person live to a hundred? Would he get Alzheimer’s disease? I think there is a distinction here, although it may be subtle. I do, however, try to avoid talking about calorie restriction in the context of obesity, partly because they really don’t belong in the same context, and partly because when people search for articles about calorie restriction they don’t expect to find articles on obesity or weight loss.

I don’t mean to be picky here, or a jerk,and I know obesity is your field, and I fully believe it is an epidemic that is avoidable, particularly if as much money was spent promoting a healthy lifestyle as is spent promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. I thought Marion Nestle’s book Food Politics addressed some of those issues well.

Raggedy said...

Fantastic post and links!
Again, I appreciate your hard research in bringing this information to us.
We appreciate you more than I can express.
I am very proud of all you have accomplished with your health as well.
It helps that you are a few steps ahead of us and leading the way so that we can become healthier too!

I hope you had a wonderful Easter!
Huggles and Love from our home to yours.

Ed Bremson said...

Raggedy, Thank you for the kind comments. Best wishes also to you and to yours.